Mental Health
How To Reduce Anxiety Around Returning To An In-Person World

How To Reduce Anxiety Around Returning To An In-Person World

5 min read


Caitlin Harper

After a long year or more of lockdowns, quarantines, and restrictions, the assumption is that most people are eager to return to pre-pandemic life. But according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America polling, around half of people say they feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interaction post-pandemic. For these people, anxiety about returning to an in-person world is real—and totally valid.

Some people have been working remotely or have been out of work during the pandemic, and are now hesitant to return to a workplace, especially if it doesn’t seem like their workplace is ready to take appropriate safety precautions.

Plenty of people have been working in-person during the entire pandemic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more stressors that can arise now that the rest of the world is catching up. Instead of going home to decompress after wearing a mask all day, now they might be flooded with invites to social gatherings or exhausting weekend activities outside the home.

Whatever your situation, if you’re feeling anxious about reopening at any level, you are not alone. It’s completely and totally normal to feel that way, even if the last year (or more) hasn’t been normal at all.

Here are some things you can start to do proactively to reduce some of the stress of returning to life in-person.

Celebrate the fact that you have more or less adjusted to the way you’re living now—and feel confident in the fact that you can adjust again

COVID-19 completely upended most of our lives to some degree. Maybe you continued to go to work in-person but you adjusted to socializing virtually with family and friends. Or maybe your office shut down one day and you adjusted to working from home while also possibly caring for children or other loved ones at the same time.

But you did it! And you can do it again.

Set aside time to brain dump about all things reopening that are causing you stress or anxiety

You can journal, record audio or video, or chat with a friend, family member, or your therapist or coach about everything on your mind. Right now, if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, those thoughts are spinning around the hamster wheel of your mind and they’ll continue to spin until you get them out!

“We might have some very real, practical reasons why we don’t want lockdown to end,” said Joanne Davies, a hypnotherapist and MyWellbeing community member in one of our recent Small Talks. “Our life might be better in lockdown. Whether the reasons are big things or seemingly insignificant things, it really helps to look at all of them without judgement or without brushing them off as silly, unimportant, or selfish. Look at what all of those reasons are and see if there may be ways that we can make our new post-lockdown life incorporate more of those. And maybe we can’t—maybe it’s just sitting with that and understanding that it’s unfair and it sucks and we don’t want it to be that way.”

Doing a brain dump, regardless of the format it takes, can help relieve some of the pressure that’s building up inside you, and if you journal or listen to what you recorded or work through a conversation with another person, you might even be able to review what you’re thinking and feeling and start to process it.

Pay attention to how the stress of reopening might be manifesting in your day-to-day life

Your brain dump can help you recognize this, but if you haven’t had time to sit down and journal or meet with someone and you want to begin tackling your reopening anxiety, just notice for the rest of the day or week how it might be impacting your daily life.

Maybe you’re not eating or sleeping well. Or you notice that you’re easily irritable or you have a change in your attention or energy levels. You could experience changes in your skin, like breakouts, or gastrointestinal issues, like an upset stomach. It may feel like these things are coming out of nowhere, but it could be that the stress that’s building up inside you doesn’t have an outlet and is therefore manifesting in these other symptoms.

Once you realize the impact of your anxiety, you can start to take small actions that might help you cope

There’s no one right way to deal with reopening anxiety, so try a few options and see what makes the biggest impact for you.

Simply acknowledge the fact that you’re feeling discomfort or stress

Returning to a fully in-person world (albeit with some changes), is stressful!

"Remember, It is normal to feel nervous or anxious when going into new or unfamiliar situations,” said Caity Thompson, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Anxiety is a normal experience that does not always indicate that something is wrong."

Sometimes, just knowing and naming what we’re feeling can be a big relief.

Find outlets for your stress

Exercise, building good sleep habits, or making sure to prioritize time for things that you enjoy can help alleviate some of the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Work exercise into your schedule or try something new, set up a bedtime routine that relaxes you, and practice preventative self-care to release some stress in a positive way.

Take small steps to readjust to pre-pandemic life

You don’t need to jump into a time machine and instantly head back to 2019. While some people have seemed to flip a switch and have no problem going back to “the way things were,” that’s not right for everyone. Think about what actually rejuvenates you and what drains you and take baby steps.

“Having a plan, such as taking an extended walk to pick up your lunch or some go-to questions for casual socializing, such as, ‘what are you up to this weekend?’ can lessen the uncertainty of the situation and help you feel more in control of your experience as you readjust to an in-person world,” said Caity.

Talk to a therapist or coach

A therapist or coach will be able to help you figure out how you can cope with your stress and anxiety or make changes in your life that could alleviate some of your stress. Don’t have a therapist or coach yet? Get matched now.

More than simply thinking about the stress of returning to life pre-quarantine, think about what you’re afraid of losing by returning

Often, reopening anxiety has a lot to do with the fact that many of us have developed ways of living and working over the past year that have served us better than our lives pre-lockdown. Maybe you love working from home and are at your most productive at your kitchen table. Maybe you never liked nightlife and have preferred a year of being a homebody. Maybe you took up a hobby at home that you really enjoyed and now you’re worried that you won’t have time for it once your old social engagements and responsibilities come calling. Maybe you were able to connect with far-flung family and friends over video chats and you’re worried that those connections will weaken once everyone is distracted by in-person interactions closer to home.

You might also feel guilt or stress about having positive feelings about benefiting from a year at home. It’s true that the circumstances that brought us to where we are now were awful and have had a lot of negative impacts that are going to last years. But it’s okay to find the silver lining in terrible situations.

The good news is that you don’t have to completely revert back to your pre-pandemic lifestyle. Of course our lives are going to change and continue to change. That’s stressful and it makes total sense to feel that way. But you can start to put boundaries in place and proactively manage your stress and anxiety so that you’re better able to cope. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Set boundaries with friends and family about what you are comfortable doing and what you’ll enjoy doing.
  • Work on proactively managing your stress and setting up your self-care practice.
  • Set boundaries at work by talking to your boss about what work situation would be ideal for you. Start the conversation early and make it clear that you’re considering the needs of everyone when you make your ask. Rally other like-minded peers to the cause—there is strength in numbers.
  • Practice what you’ll say when faced with something you used to do and that people might expect of you, but that you’re no longer comfortable with or interested in. Other people are readjusting too, and they may have their own expectations about what returning to pre-pandemic life looks like.

Transitioning from a global pandemic back to pre-pandemic life isn’t easy, and everyone we know is doing it together for the very first time. While feeling reopening anxiety is completely and totally valid, there are ways to protect yourself and your time and cope with the stress of moving back into a fully in-person world.

For more tips and resources about reopening and how you can prioritize caring for yourself and others, check out our July 2021 Mental Health Calendar. And remember that regardless of what life throws at you, you got this.

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About the author

Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at

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